Greater Gadsden, AL - Southeast Tourism Society


Greater Gadsden, AL - Southeast Tourism Society
For much of the 20th century, Gadsden, Alabama, was a
heavy-industry town, highlighted by rubber, textile, and
steel production. As those industries began to decline, city
leaders began looking for ways to replace the economic
impact lost. The local legislative delegation worked on
creating a new tourism board to attract new visitors and
new money to the city and county.
In 2009, the Etowah County Tourism Board was created
with nine appointments from stakeholders interested in
growth through tourism. The board hired a professional
and tourism-trained Executive Director and went about
the task of identifying the county’s tourism assets. The
Coosa River and Noccalula Falls Park were the obvious
choices. The Coosa River touches five communities in
Etowah County and its history is rich in transportation
and recreation. Noccalula Falls Park, home of the 90-foot
Noccalula Falls waterfall, is a year-round attraction
featuring the water fall, petting zoo, campground, Pioneer
Village, Botanical Gardens, mini-golf, hiking and biking
trails, and sweeping vistas of the surrounding area.
In 2011, the tourism board recruited a company to put on
an event called The Barbarian Challenge at the Park. This
timed obstacle race was over 5 miles long and contained
22 man-made and natural obstacles. Natural obstacles
such as steep hills, rocky climbs, and multiple creek
crossings in the Noccalula Falls gorge were combined
with man-made obstacles such as hay bale climbs, rope
ascents, sand bag carries and crawls through mud pits.
The race proved very popular in its first year, attracting
over 450 athletes. Over the next three years, the race
increased in size and in 2014 attracted 1250 athletes.
Seeing the potential of the race, the City of Gadsden
negotiated to purchase the event from the rights-holder.
The City reached a deal in early 2015 and the 2015 race
would be managed by the City. As the event manager, the
City could better manage the quality, safety, advertising/
marketing, race day experience, and the fun of the race.
With just two months to publicize the race, the event still
attracted over 750 athletes. The race was a great success
for the participants who felt the race was the best ever.
The Barbarian Challenge Facebook page has over 11,000
likes. Almost 800 have registered for the 2016 race on
June 18 with over five weeks until the race. Clearly, the
Barbarian Challenge is successful in bringing visitors to
Gadsden so they can learn more about what this great city
has to offer.
Long-term tourism growth is a process that takes time and dedication through branding, creation of new
partnerships and leveraging existing partnerships, and continuous image advertising over a long period of time.
Short-term tourism can be impacted immediately by events, festivals, and activities that bring visitors to an area.
Since its’ creation in 2009, the Etowah County Tourism Board has actively been involved in planning, partnering with,
marketing and advertising for, and sponsoring special events and festivals that have good potential to impact shortterm tourism as well as create a community that fosters long-term tourism growth through quality of life.
In 2009, lodgings tax revenue for the Etowah County Tourism Board was $404, 717. In 2015, that figure had grown
to $494, 427, a 22% increase.
Over the last three years, hotel occupancy has increased by 19%, Average Daily Rate has increased by 7.2%, Revenue
per available room has increased by 26.5% and total hotel revenue has increased by 22.2%.
Much of this increase can be attributed to the increase of events at Noccalula Falls, such as the Barbarian Challenge,
the increase of trail running events due to the creation of the Black Creek Trail System and to the number of Bass
Fishing Tournaments on the Coosa River. The short-term effect will over time, become part of a longer-term increase
in tourism spending in the county.